The 'great stupa' at sanchi is the oldest stone structure in india and was originally commissioned by the emperor ashoka in the 3rd century bce.Its center was a simple hemispherical brick structure built over the relics of the buddha. It was crowned by the chatra, a parasollike structure symbolising high rank, which was intended to honour and shelter the relics. With its many tiers it was a symbol of the dharma, the wheel of the law.
A second stone pathway at ground level was enclosed by a stone balustrade with four monumental gateways (toranas) facing the cardinal directions. The northern gateway of the stupa contains ornamented depiction of incidents from the life of the buddha and his previous incarnations as bodhisattvas described in the jataka tales.